We compare the costs of a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal versus takeout or eating out at a restaurant.
Microwave Ovens Size and Cooking Power
Microwaves Features: Size, Capacity, Cooking Power
Microwave Ovens Size.The first step in choosing a microwave oven is determining how many people will be feasting on the results at any given time. Consumers who live alone, college students with roommates, and folks who just want to heat up a frozen dinner, can get by with a small microwave oven like the Magic Chef MCD990R (starting at $65), with 0.9 cubic feet of capacity.
Internal capacity is loosely associated with external dimensions. The four top choices for best cheap microwave ovens are all about 22 inches wide and 12 inches high. But their depth varies: the Panasonic NN-H765 and 1.4 cubic-foot Oster OGG61403 (starting at $100) both measure about 19.5 inches from front to back; the Kenmore 6633 (starting at $140) has capacity of 1.2 cubic feet and is a bit more than 17 inches deep and the GE JES1142SJ is nearly 16 inches front to back. Two other mid-sized models we researched, the Haier MWM12001SCG (starting at $149) and LG LMA1180ST (starting at $100) measure 20.5W x 12.5H x 16D and 20W x 11.5H x 16D, respectively.
All these measurements can be misleading, though. Consumer products experts point out that manufacturers include unusable space when specifying capacity, so it's a good idea to test out a favorite piece of microwave-safe cookware in any model you're considering. (Of course, this means getting to a store with cookware in hand.) The Kenmore 6633 stands out for its rounded interior, which minimizes the chances of a casserole dish, say, getting stuck in a corner as the carousel turns. Consumers commenting on the Sears site add that it's much easier to clean than the traditional right-angled surfaces. The Panasonic scores with consumers for the large 15-inch turntable, which they say easily holds a couple of meals at once.
When deciding where to put the microwave oven, make sure there's clearance above and around the unit. Experts say at least two inches in the back is necessary if the microwave is going into a cabinet. The GE Spacemaker II PEM31 (starting at $200) is mounted under a cabinet and requires three inches clearance on the top. Specs for the Haier MWM12001SCG, the microwave-convection oven combo, call for a three-inch clearance around the back and sides and 12 inches on top because the unit gets very hot in oven mode; some reviewers note this requirement makes the model unwieldy for some kitchens.
Microwave Ovens Cooking Power.Power in a microwave is measured in watts, and mid-sized microwave ovens need at least 1000 watts of power to heat food quickly. Fortunately, there's no need to sacrifice power just because you're being economical. The Panasonic NN-H765 boasts 1250 watts, the Kenmore 6633 and Oster OGG61403 both provide 1200 watts, the GE JES1142S and LG LMA1180ST feature 1100 watts.
Microwaves that incorporate the functions of other appliances, however, apparently cede a bit of power. The Kenmore Pizza Maker and Microwave Combo 66993 (starting at $200) is a standard mid-sized microwave oven that runs on 1000 watts; ditto for the Haier MWM12001SCG, which functions as a microwave, convection oven, and grill.
You don't always need to operate at full throttle, however, and the best cheap microwave ovens come with 10 power levels that suit different cooking tasks. Each setting represents the amount of time that the magnetron (the component that converts electrons into microwaves) cycles on and off. If you're at level 5, say, the unit produces microwaves 50% of the time and is passive the other 50%. Alternatively, you can rely on a one-touch cooking button that eliminates the guesswork in deciding how much power to use.Back to top »
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